October 29, 2014

Court of Appeal vacates $500,000 punitive damages award because plaintiff failed to serve statement of damages (Chen v. Institute of Medical Education)

We have reported before on cases in which a court reversed a default-judgment punitive damages award because the plaintiff failed to serve the defendant with a statement of damages.

The plaintiffs in this case tried to avoid that fate by arguing that the record contained no evidence to support a finding that they did not serve a statement of damages.  According to the plaintiffs, the defendant could not prove that point simply by pointing out that no such statement appeared in the record.

It's a somewhat clever argument, because a statement of damages wouldn't necessarily appear in the trial court record.  It could be served but not filed with the court.  Thus, the absence of a statement of damages in the record doesn't necessarily mean that statement of damages was filed. 

But the Sixth Appellate District didn't buy it.  In this unpublished opinion, the court observed that the  plaintiffs had never actually claimed, in the trial court or on appeal, that they did serve a statement of damages.  Accordingly, the court was comfortable presuming that the plaintiffs never served a statement of damages, despite the void in the record on that point.  As a result, the court vacated the punitive damages portion of the default judgment ($500,000).